After a five-year drought throughout the state, Northern California’s surface water systems have now been pushed to the breaking point on the heels of weeks of rainfall. Nearly 190,000 people were evacuated on February 12 over fears that a damaged spillway at the nation’s tallest dam in Lake Oroville located in the Sierra Nevada foothills could fail and unleash a wall of water. Officials ordered residents and commercial businesses to stay away until they felt confident that the risk of flooding was reduced. Although the evacuation was changed to a warning two days later and residents and business owners were allowed to return to their communities, they were advised to be prepared to evacuate again at a moment’s notice should new problems arise.
The situation in Northern California highlights the critical need for property managers to be emergency-ready in the event of potential flooding in their community. One of the most important jobs of a property manager is to keep residents and tenants safe and to help minimize damage to property. Following are some measures that should be an integral component of a risk management program for property owners of habitational risks, community associations, commercial buildings and others.
- Make sure tenants are educated on evacuation situations and that emergency plans are up to date. Before an emergency hits, property managers should always have a plan in place for residents and office tenants. Make certain that evacuation plans are clear so everyone knows what to do in the event of an emergency and how to carry out the plan.
- Mark emergency exits and fire-safe stairwells. Property managers should check that all emergency exits are clearly marked. Residents, for example, should have a diagram in their units that clearly mark where these exits and stairwells are in the complex. For a commercial office building, map out evacuation routes and post diagrams displaying these routes in strategic locations. Heavily trafficked areas like elevators, stairwells, lobbies and public restrooms are good choices.
- Make sure your communications systems are up to par. In the event of a flood warning or other local emergency, time is of the essence, so it’s imperative to have excellent communication systems in place. Plan for several methods of communication so that residents and tenants can’t miss the signal to evacuate or take other precautions. Don’t forget to include additional property staffers as part of the communication system, especially those responsible for turning off utilities like gas or water when problems arise.
- Know how to shut off utilities like electricity, water and gas.
- Learn what needs to be done in the event of a power outage. How should you handle features like garage doors and elevators?
- Provide your residents, tenants and employees with a list of emergency phone numbers.
- Designate a person to be sure all residents/tenants are accounted for if an evacuation of your property is necessary.
Property managers and owners should also work with their insurance agents and brokers to identify hazard exposures and conduct a complete risk assessment. Look at the risk to residents and tenants in the event of a flood as well as the exposure for potential damage to the building, including to building systems, the foundation, and roof. Also, evaluate the potential for loss of housing units and tenants. Once the risks are identified, ensure there are strategies in place for building resilience, such as wet flood-proofing, dry flood-proofing, site flood-proofing, resilience elevators, backwater valves, sump pumps, back-up power maintenance, and emergency lighting. Have a plan in place once a warning is issued to move all items used or stored in flood-prone basements or ground-floor spaces out of the building or to higher floors. These items may include vehicles, mechanical equipment including lawn mowers and snow blowers, furniture, cleaning supplies and toxic chemicals, etc.
In addition, ensure that the right insurance program is in place to respond in the event of a loss due to flooding or other catastrophe. Also, remind residents/tenants to carry renter’s insurance along with flood coverage for their personal content.